Just after the now “suspended chief justice” Khil Raj Regmi was sworn in as chairman of a “till August, maybe till November” caretaker election council of administrators, it was announced in Tumlingtar that the weather had cleared and yesterday’s cancelled flights would resume soon. They did, and the relief felt by the passengers quickly gave way to frantic mobile calls to destinations where yesterday’s problems were waiting for them. It matched very much the national mood regarding the latest phase of Loktantrick political travesty. There is relief that an extremely unpopular and corrupt Baburam-Madhesi cabinet is gone; but the uncertainties and uncomfortable questions of yesterday are staring Nepalis in the face more hideous than ever before with Loktantrick political leadership pretending they are not there, that everything is just normal and will be even more so after elections.
This latest phase of a journey in regime change that began in November 2005 with the 12-point Delhi deal has shaken the faith of even die-hard true believers to its very foundations. The movers and shakers of yesterday’s boisterous civil society slink and hide when confronted with these uncomfortable truths, desperately hoping for any fig leaf on the political horizon. It is now painfully clear to them that it was no “people’s movement” they so romantically claimed these last half dozen years that brought about this ill-defined and even more ill-functioning Loktantra: it was a well-choreographed but very myopic external game plan of the Mughlanis that has gone horribly awry. And it has swept away the credibility not only of Nepal’s civil society and its journalist chattering class but also that of the self-styled “international community” consisting mainly of the EuroAmericans. The need for any fig leaf is why the latter jumped to welcome the Khil Raj regime change that defies any norm of democracy and principles of check-and-balance even as the legal fraternity rightly questioned its legitimacy. The only incongruity was the Chinese statement of welcome, which is being interpreted as their giving the Mughlanis and the EuroAmericans a long rope to hang themselves. They broke it: they should fix it, seems to be the Chinese approach who lose no diplomatic capital in bargain.
In normal times and with a normal political system in place, an independent caretaker government to hold elections my not have evoked the passions it has. However, these are not normal times in Nepal, with the cesspool of distrust among the political class more miasmic than ever before in Nepal’s history. Even rural passengers at the Tumlingtar airport check-in were quick to point out the total failure of Nepal’s political parties and their leadership. Political problems must be solved by political leaders; and when they cannot, they should retire from public life. Instead, what we now have is naked shamelessness: they failed the country with the Constituent Assembly but have the gall to direct the country's politics as four-party oligarchs (derisively referred to as Shree Chaar Ko Sarkar) from their dark lairs. And, with the 11-point deal among themselves, they and their kitchen cabal (they have not had the courage to face their central committees on the Khil Raj appointment, nor have explained whose pressures they faced that they could not withstand) hope to run anew for CA elections again using corruption money and goon squad muscle as before. And if they fail to get elected, they have assured themselves oligarchic nomination through the back door. And Mr Jimmy Carter, speaking for the self-styled “international community” will in all probability call it a free and fair democracy as he did even before the booth captured voting had ended last time in April 2008! This is what riles ordinary Nepalis.
The first incongruity of an unaccountable cabal running the show came when Khil Raj Regmi thanked the four-party leadership for trusting him with the council of ministers. It was not the head of state ahead of him in protocol but a back-room cabal that he thanked and thus indicated he was grateful and beholden to. He then expanded his Palpali Brahmin mafia cabinet to include more Brahmin ex-civil servants on instructions from the four-party leadership cabal. Thus in one fell swoop, the credibility, fairness and independence of Nepal's judiciary and its civil service took a nosedive. It now places all decisions by these civil servants during their tenure as secretaries of government under a partisan question mark, something that is very unfortunate for the country and with long-term consequences into the future. To cover a bad mistake made in November 2005, a series of worse ones were undertaken, this latest being the last so far down the chain.
The political blind alley the country entered into since then has become even more constricted now with little room for maneuver; and new elections, far from solving the problems, will in all probability make things worse despite providing some procedural legitimacy to the eventual winners. Twenty two other parties, some such as the Dash Maoists with more street power volunteers than the four-party establishment, have already gone on a war path. Even among the four-party syndicate, there is no unanimity on or approval of the course taken by their leaders, with a majority of the central committees, especially the Nepali Kangress and the UML opposed to the deal with the Cash Maoists. Sadly, the middle ground so-called mainstream seems to be lost, and it is only what are termed the extreme left and the extreme right that seem to know what their political agenda is and are going for it with, hopefully not literally, guns blazing.
Nepali voting public now have to face some unpleasant questions that cannot be wished away. The oligarchy of four-party leadership syndicate is no democracy. It is only interested in wielding all power from behind, as their nominations to the council of ministers showed, with even less accountability than before. This “all power but no responsibility” has been the long-term bane of South Asian politics, from Gandhi the Mahatma to Sonia in India, and from Ganesh Man Singh to the current oligarchy in Nepal. Unlike with Mandela, Mao and Lenin who took responsibility with power and built their political systems, these South Asian leaders retained power but shied away from shouldering responsibility in its exercise, hiving it off to faceless party bureaucrats. As a result the foundations of our democracy and governance system never got properly laid. We are paying the price today for that with instability and corruption. And in remote rural areas, such as the backwoods of Taplejung or Sankhuwasabha people are beginning to openly say the unutterable, that maybe Gyanendra was right!
In the frenzied cacophony of election-mongering, difficult questions are being drowned out but will not go away. Elections for what? Again another CA? What guarantee that this one won't fail as before, especially if the same failed party leadership holds sway? If they went into retirement or were sent into involuntary exile by debarring the failed ones in late CA from contesting this round of new elections, then maybe there would arise some degree of hope in an electorate that is increasingly beginning to say “I will not vote again for these crooks!” Questions of federalism and model of democracy remain unanswered, with the views of major political parties even further apart than before. Across the country, there is a bigger demand for local elections to check the unbridled corruption of party leaders and bureaucrats, and to make official service delivery easier in the hinterlands. The four-party oligarchy does not want to talk about it as they hope to continue their old lucrative practice of feeding their henchmen off the national coffers through grateful selection, not empowering election. Fresh elections might provide a fig-leaf to the Mughlanis and the self-styled international community, and Mr Jimmy Carter may even give it a “good housekeeping” certificate when he comes here next, but it will not solve the malaise afflicting Nepal's Loktantrick politics without major ethical reforms.